By Liz Bergren
Most of us are aware of the urgent need to create a more sustainable environment. Climate change is on our minds and is a current source of political debate. According to the EPA, the temperature of Earth has risen 1.5 degrees over the past 100 years. It projects that the Earth’s temperature will rise another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees in the next 100 years. We have seen changes in our weather, such as excessive rainfall, droughts, and heat waves, and impacts on animal behavior.
Teaching kids the importance of reducing their carbon footprints is essential for the health of our planet. As fall approaches and you get ready to start a fresh school year, consider the following strategies for a “greener” classroom and school.
1. Get kids competing.
Kids love competition, so consider turning recycling into a contest. See who can recycle the most excess paper after a project. Have kids inventory what they recycle at home or which parts of their home lives they consider to be “green.” Tally up totals and offer a prize for the biggest recyclers. Turn recycling into a grade-wide competition by putting bins in the hall to see which class can collect the most paper or other recyclable products.
2. Bring in a local professional.
Find someone in your area who is responsible for recycling, waste reduction, or reusing materials and invite that person to speak to your class about ways to “green” your classroom.
3. Look to nature for art supplies.
There are so many colors in nature! We can use them for dyes for homemade playdough or even to make paint. A great class project could include students researching colors in nature and bringing those sources to class. Potential items for natural dyes include beets, mustard seeds, turmeric, and spirulina. Discuss the potential harm that toxins from traditional art supplies could do to the environment.
4. Have a taste-testing day.
When I was a teacher, I used to have my students explore how chemicals used as herbicides and pesticides on our food can impact our health and the environment. We would discuss the differences between conventional farming and organic farming and sample produce from both. I’d assign each of my students a different fruit and give them the task of tracking down one piece of conventional fruit and one piece of organic fruit. Then we’d cut up the fruit and discuss the differences in texture and taste. Anything to eat is always a big hit in the classroom. Obviously, there are some constraints to this project, as it requires money, and allergies are always important to consider.
5. See who can make something out of recycled or discarded materials.
Look to discarded fabric or old clothes for sewing projects or collages. Use old eyeglasses, string, or beads to make jewelry. Reclaimed wood or other surfaces can be a canvas for paint.
6. Bring living things into the classroom.
If you bring in a plant, then students can have the experience of caring for something. Have them take turns watering and pruning. If possible, have a class pet, perhaps a lizard or a fish. Students will be able to monitor the animal’s environment and understand what it needs to be healthy and comfortable.
7. Choose eco-friendly pens and pencils.
If you do a little searching, there are many places where you can order pencils and pens made from different recycled products. Making these available to your students can spark conversations about how so many things can be recycled and turned into completely different products. Check out theultimategreenstore.com or ask about recycled school supplies at your local office supply store.
8. Designate rules for paper use.
Create a lesson that explains how paper is produced and how overconsumption of paper takes away from our forests. Have students create a class plan for reducing paper consumption.
9. Use hand towels instead of paper towels.
One way to reduce the use of paper towels in the classroom is to have students bring in their own hand towels to use for handwashing. This is easiest if you have a sink in the classroom, or students can simply take their towels with them to the bathroom for washing before lunch. Have students bring their hand towels home for washing once a week.
10. Encourage students to join networks or organize school campaigns.
Share with your students local organizations that work to keep your area clean. Arrange a walking field trip to pick up trash around your school. Have your students brainstorm ways to get the whole school or grade involved in the reduction of litter or water use or in the overall protection of the environment.
11. Model environmentally healthy practices.
Go paperless as much as you can, which isn’t too hard anymore. Use digital presentations to avoid the use of paper for homework. Assign online homework if your students have access to digital devices. Bring a reusable cup or bottle to class instead of plastic water bottles or coffee cups. Reuse paper for passes or thank-you notes. Encourage healthy practices for your students and find teachable moments to help the environment.
Liz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.
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